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The V-Spot: Changed and Confused

Hi Yana,

I’m a queer non-binary femme. My partner (also queer and non-binary) and I have been together for just about three years. In the past year, I have been doing a lot of emotional work — processing lots of trauma, shame and doing a lot of digging and learning. It’s also been a year of more depression and anxiety on my part.

The first year and a half of our relationship we were incredibly sexual, we enjoyed sex a lot, loved to explore, and had sex pretty much as often as we could. One of the side-effects of all this trauma-processing is that my sex drive and sexuality has changed a lot. I don’t feel sexy, often feel uncomfortable in my body, and can’t stay present during sex.

My partner is incredibly supportive of me and the work I’ve been doing. We communicate A LOT and they’ve been super patient and kind about the shifts in my sexuality. However, their sex drive has not changed and I know it has been tough for them as I have gone from someone who is super sexual to feeling anxious and uncomfortable in sexual scenarios. I miss the physical connection with my partner.

I guess my question is a multi-part question: 1.) How can my partner and I re-enter sexual spaces with a sort of sexual reset? How do you handle sex with someone you know so well when things have so drastically changed? 2.) What can we do to help me become more comfortable with sex again? 3.) How can we share intimate and intentional physical space in a way that is not stressful?

Thank you,

Changed & Confused

 

Dear C&C,

Congrats on doing the hard work of processing old stuff! Opting to move through the mud rather than skirting it indefinitely is a brave choice that’s tough to make so pats on the back to you! Now let’s tackle these question parts.

1.) Knowing our sexual partners well can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we are comfortable. We have history, a repertoire, and trust. A curse because with that can come assumptions, expectations, and overconfidence in our ability to read the other person.

Pushing a sexual reset might not be possible without some memory-erasing spells a la Harry Potter, but embarking on discovering what’s new about your sexuality with fresh eyes, hands, and ears is a great start.

You might do a Yes/No/Maybe list together (find them onyanatallonhicks.com, I prefer the one by Autostraddle.com) to detail the definitelies, unsures, and hell nos of your new sexual frontier or do a worksheet from Emily Nagoski’s book about sexual turn-ons and sexual turn-offs (thedirtynormal.com – update! looks like she recently axed this website. find her and her work here instead) to see where the new limits lie. Putting pen to paper before putting hands to skin can be a really impactful way to visualize new sexual territories.

2.) Becoming more comfortable with sex again is much like the process of learning how to trust again, which, unfortunately for the impatient among us, is a process of experience over time. Continuing therapy, moving at a comfortable pace, continuing your communication, and collecting positive, new sexual experiences are all great pieces of the healing puzzle…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: IPAs Run My Sex Life

Editor’s Note: This column refers to sexual trauma responses.

Hi Yana,

My girlfriend and I have been together for four months, but lately I’ve been noticing we’ve only been having sex when we’re drinking. Nothing to put consent into question for either of us, of course, just a couple beers.

I asked her about it over dinner, and she said, “It’s nothing you’re doing wrong, I’ve just hated myself lately.” I know she struggles with depression and anxiety and has some trauma in her past, so I’m unsure how to proceed.

I know I can’t “solve” her problems or make her have a more positive body image, but I care about her and don’t want our sex life to be dependent on how many IPAs are available. I try to be supportive and complimentary because she’s gorgeous and has a great body, but I also get that my opinion isn’t enough to alter what she sees in herself.

— Seeking Happiness, Not Hoppiness

 

Dear Seeking Happiness,

It’s so great that you noticed this trend in your sex life and had the bravery to bring it up to your girlfriend in the way that you did. That your partner feels comfortable telling you what’s going on for her, even if it’s something painful like “I hate myself lately” makes me think that you all have a solid communication foundation which is invaluable.

When people have experienced sexual/relational trauma, a person’s body and brain can register all sexual touch as potentially dangerous as it attempts to protect them from a repeat experience. The body and mind can start responding to sexual touch in ways that either triggers flashbacks or shuts the body down in some way to avoid danger.

It’s possible that your girlfriend’s drinks requirements help her get past this discomfort in order to engage in sex and/or helps her numb out whatever unpleasant responses are happening for her mentally, emotionally, or physically. If she’s willing or able to work with a therapist around this trauma, the therapist might help her identify and explore her trauma and how else she might be able to cope with it besides drinking before sex.

You’re absolutely right that you can’t “fix” her and in fact it can be harmful to her, you, and your relationship if you should make that your mission. However, you’re an equal part of this sexual relationship and it can be painful to witness your sexual partner essentially taking steps to numb herself out or block herself from you when you’re having sex. Even when our partners have traumatic histories, it’s still okay to desire a connected and engaged sex life, even if it’s not immediately possible.

Show and tell her that you’re here to be supportive and that her mental health is important to you as it’s part of your shared relational space. Offer support but don’t push, blame, or take too much charge.

How?…continue reading…

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I’ve Had Enough With Vaginismus

Content Note: Sexual trauma addressed in this week’s column.

Hi Yana,

I really appreciate your column and the work that you do. I have a really embarrassing sex problem. I was sexually abused throughout various parts of my life, starting in my childhood and going into my twenties. I have vaginismus, but with therapy and dilation, it’s slowly but surely gotten better. I’m seeing someone new who I really like, and the vaginismus is coming back. I feel very safe and cared for with this person, so it’s both perplexing and embarrassing. I feel like I can never escape the sexual abuse of my past and move on to have healthy sexual relationships. Help!

— Reaching for Relief

Dear RR,

First, it’s crucial for you to hear, know, and reaffirm to yourself that neither the sexual abuse inflicted on you nor the resultant vaginismus is your fault. While it’s extremely common for sexual abuse survivors to feel shame and embarrassment as a result of their abuse and/or its aftereffects — in your case, vaginismus — these feelings of shame and embarrassment are misattributions of responsibility for the abuse onto you rather than rightfully onto your abuser/s. Again, neither the abuse or vaginismus are your fault.

I can only imagine how painful and frustrating it is to have to manage the aftereffects of these traumas inflicted on you in this new relationship with someone so great.

Vaginismus — the unexpected tightening of the PC muscles/vaginal canal during sexual penetration resulting in physical pain and discomfort — is an especially upsetting and fickle symptom of trauma as its root causes are often both physical and mental/emotional. It sounds like you’re doing all of the right things by digging down to these two roots via therapy and dilation.

Whether we have a trauma history or not — and so many of us do — our bodies aren’t always going to cooperate with our minds during sex…continue reading…

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Why Can’t I Have Sex Without Drinking?

Editor’s Note: Sexual trauma is addressed in this week’s column.

Hi Yana,

I can’t seem to want to have sex unless I’m drunk.

This has always kind of been the case, except for when I was a teenager, and horny all the time (and not drinking). Then when I got to college, there were many instances where all my friends would be going on about how much they “needed” sex, and I could never relate. It was only when I got drunk that I would feel the same sort of uncontrollable desires.

Whenever I date someone, there’s that beginning period where we’re wooing each other, so we go out all the time (and drink) and I can’t seem to get enough (so we have a lot of sex). Now I’m in a relationship with someone I really care about, we’re about seven months in, and I just never want to have sex.

My significant other has noticed and thinks I’m not really attracted to them [Editor’s Note: The letter writer requested the use of they/them pronouns for the partner]. That’s not the case. It’s more like, I can’t “let go” and enjoy myself if I’m sober. I have too much racing through my mind, or I’m frustrated because I can’t orgasm, or I’m frustrated because I can’t make them orgasm.

Our short term solution has been to just not have sex until we both feel like it, but the problem is that I literally don’t even think about sex unless they bring it up. They’re okay with it for now, but I’m worried the lack of physical intimacy is going to eventually drive them away.

I don’t know if it’s the birth control I take (I’ve been on it for a few years), if a past trauma is for some reason rearing its ugly head now (I was raped in college and assaulted once as a child), but I feel like something is wrong with me!

— Confused with a Low Libido

Dear CLL,

This sounds like a really hard place to be in and I’m grateful that you’re verbalizing it. As my readers know, consent is extremely important to me.

It’s one thing if someone enjoys a drink before sexual activity with an established partner they know and trust and have built familiar consent practices with. It’s another if someone feels like the only way to experience sex is to get to the point of intoxication, a state of mind that renders clear consent impossible. This jeopardizes the safety of you both — you as the intoxicated one and your partner as the person attempting to honor your boundaries and make you feel good rather than unsafe.

The human brain and body are quite amazing machines. When someone has experienced sexual trauma as you have, our brains and bodies can put up barricades to potentially triggering situations like sex to protect us. But sometimes these barriers can also block up other things we would like to enjoy — like sex with our partners!…continue reading…